It may traditionally be a black tie affair, but the last time I checked, it wasn’t a crime to be underdressed for an occasion. Unless that formal occasion is the State of the Union Address and you happen to be wearing a t-shirt with an anti-war slogan.
According to Cindy Sheehan, she was hauled away from the event the minute she began taking off her coat, with a security officer labeling her a “protester” and charging her with a misdemeanor for such. The charge was later changed to “unlawful conduct,” and she was released several hours later with all charges dropped. According to initial reports, Ms. Sheehan was asked to cover up the shirt and refused. Ms. Sheehan states she was never asked, and was not in the room long enough to be asked.
But what is happening here, really? Since when is it illegal to wear a t-shirt to an event at the Capitol? I’ll grant that something a little classier might have been more traditionally appropriate, but Ms. Sheehan had spent the day at the CodePink “People’s State of the Union” (insert anti-war sentiments here) and states that she was offered a ticket to President Bush’s speech at that time. Perhaps she did not have additional clothing. Perhaps she did not intend to remove her coat. Perhaps it should not matter what she wore if she was simply attending the event.
While there are always at least two sides to every story, I’m inclined to believe the version presented by Cindy Sheehan based on my own personal experience with events involving President Bush. I was “privileged” enough to have President Bush be the featured graduation speaker at the 2002 spring commencement at The Ohio State University – the year I received my MSW there. Three and a half years ago, with a significantly higher popularity rating and less indictment drama, security officers arrested and removed a number of students from their own commencement by choosing to turn their backs on the President while he gave his commencement address. And all students, whether in attendence or not, were threatened before the event that anything seen as dissent would be seen as an embarrassment to the University and could be cause for expulsion and/or refusal to grant a diploma.
This Administration has been more afraid of dissent than any other that I can remember in my lifetime, and this is troublesome for me. So often we risk our young people’s lives to bring “freedoms” to far-off lands while we continue to erode our domestic freedoms. Wiretaps, blogwatches, infiltrations of meetings, arrests for t-shirts or turning 180 degrees… what next? What else needs to happen before we remember how to be angry?